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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 December 2009

Solidarity with striking South African miners

SOLIDARITY IS urgently needed for striking South African mineworkers at a plat-inum mine in Rustenburg whose dispute has become extremely bitter. In August around 5,000 workers, members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the biggest affiliate of Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) embarked on a legal strike for a wage increase.

Weissman Hamilton and Mametlwe Sebei, Democratic Socialist Movement, (DSM, CWI South Africa)

Facing particularly harsh conditions, these mineworkers are among the lowest paid with one of the most intensely exploitative regimes. Their demands included a 15% pay increase and improved benefits.

Two days into the strike, without warning, the workers received notice from the NUM leadership that they had settled for a 10.5% increase. The leadership's justification was that other mineworkers had agreed to this. The leadership's capitulation cut across attempts to build solidarity with workers at other mines.

The workers' frustration spilled over into anger when the union leadership ordered them back to work. The workers rejected the agreement and resolved to carry on with the strike. The leadership's action effectively rendered continued strike action illegal. Increasingly desperate, the mineworkers staged a sit-in underground.

The mine bosses' response was to sack all the workers. Protests were organised to demand the workers' reinstatement. The mine bosses, with a history of repression, exploitation and inhuman brutality, interpreted the union leadership's role as an opportunity to slash the workers' conditions. They announced they would only be prepared to re-employ the workers on reduced pay and wipe out all their previous work history including pension credits and other benefits.

Under pressure a small number drifted back to work but this was the exception. The main effect was to increase the workers' determination to fight on. Thousands remained on strike and attempted to re-occupy the mine.

Mine security and police with dogs, armed with live ammunition and willing to shoot, were unleashed against them. So far three miners have been confirmed dead, with an unknown number missing. Many were arrested. Those in hospital were in effect under arrest. The NUM had turned its back on the workers.

In response the strikers organised a protest march to the Cosatu congress in September.

Following discussions with members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the Socialist Party's sister party in South Africa) - Mametlwe Sebei, a DSM trade union activist and media and campaigns coordinator of the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa (Mewusa) travelled to Rustenburg to assist their struggle.

Mewusa was able to assist in determining the number of workers killed, to secure the release of those detained and to arrange legal representation. Seeing a more militant leadership and also the opportunity to remain connected to other workers, the workers renounced their NUM membership and the entire branch joined Mewusa en bloc.

Mewusa succeeded in securing the release of 34 jailed workers on bail. Access was won for the families of those arrested but hospitalised. Those mineworkers who remained in hiding underground in protest surfaced on hearing news of renewed struggle under the new leadership of Mewusa.

DSM and Mewusa put forward a programme for the struggle. This included calls for a mobilisation of other mineworkers in the city and workers elsewhere. They also raised the idea of linking up with the local communities.

Rolling mass action is planned which will raise the crucial question of nationalisation and the need for a mass workers' party on a socialist programme. The struggle continues with renewed determination. A demonstration is planned for Saturday 12 December.

  • Further reports will be carried in The Socialist as the movement develops and can be read on the website of the DSM, www.socialistsouthafrica.co.za
  • Please send urgent solidarity greetings to these determined trade unionists to mewusa@lantic.net. Protests can be sent to patrick@cosatu.org.za

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